How She Leads: Andrea Pinabell, Starwood Hotels & Resorts

Andrea Pinabell, Starwood
Starwood Hotels
"Data is your friend," says the VP of sustainability, global citizenship.

Starwood Hotels measures its progress on sustainability one room at a time. Its current aspiration: Engineer a 30 percent reduction in energy usage and a 20 percent cut in water consumption by 2020.

That’s quite an undertaking when you consider that includes more than 348,000 guest rooms worldwide spread among nine brands including Westin, Sheraton, W Hotels and green hospitality specialist Element.

For the past four years, Andrea Pinabell has kept Starwood’s foundational initiatives on track. The company aims to save more than $1 billion over the next decade through investments in things such as more efficient cooling and heating systems.

At the same time, Pinabell’s team encourages each brand to shape its own unique take on environmental and social responsibility.

“Small actions taken by our more than 180,000 associates worldwide have the ability to make a profound impact on our hotels, communities and business,” Pinabell wrote, in response to questions sent for this column.

In April, for example, W Hotels launched a new partnership with Ekocycle, which upcycles discarded plastic bottles. The initiative is focused on replacing sheets throughout all the North American properties with ones made from a new sort of polyester. Each king-size sheet uses about 31 20-ounce bottles.

Pinabell shares more of her philosophy.

Heather Clancy: What was the genesis of the Ekocycle partnership?

Andrea Pinabell: Coca-Cola and Starwood have been strategic partners for a few years. About two years ago, as a passion point of mine as well as others in Starwood’s leadership team, I took on the project of reducing the footprint of drinking water in our hotels. Coke was a key partner in that process for where we have bottled water requirements.

During this time, we discovered that we were very aligned with regards to our sustainability platform and mission, and we thought with the power of two Fortune 500 companies we could leverage each other’s strengths to really make an impact. Since then we have brainstormed and embarked on multiple projects to combat water risk, highlight waste management and impact our local communities.

Clancy: What impact will it have on Starwood’s overall sustainability goals?

Pinabell: Partnerships like the one with Coke will help to inform and expand our goals as we move forward. We have been very committed to 30/20 by '20 since 2009, which is Starwood’s goal to reduce our energy and emissions by 30 percent and our water consumption by 20 percent by 2020 (per built room).  

Ekocycle sheets for W Hotels
</p><p></p><p></p><p></p><p>Ekocycle sheets for W Hotels are made partly of recycled drink bottles.</p>

Our partnership with Ekocycle and Coke not only helps us achieve our existing goals like 30/20, it also helps us to better understand the larger impact of upcycling waste streams. I believe that if our associates and guests know what happens to the bottles that they recycle, it helps to make that all important connection and therefore, change behavior, which is ultimately part of what we are trying to achieve.

Clancy: How do you prioritize investments across each hotel brand?

Pinabell: The corporate team in Stamford, Conn., and throughout our divisions help create and support programs, partnerships and initiatives across our portfolio. We think about this less in terms of prioritizing investments by hotel or brand and more about global initiatives that help decrease our environmental impact while enhancing or at the very least not impacting the guest experience.

For example, foundational initiatives like energy-efficient lighting and low-flow faucets and fixtures are mandated across all of our brands globally and get us about a third of the way towards our 30/20 by '20 goals while having an ROI of close to a year and therefore falling under operational and not capital spend. We also have partnerships that roll out in specific locations, like our solar panel partnership with NRG, which is targeted at specific locations that would benefit from solar.

Clancy: To what extent do the hotel brands share ideas?

Pinabell: Best practices and innovation come every day from our hotels. We share these ideas and best practices both globally and locally. We have an intranet (Sustainability Resource Center) where we publish case studies and best practices from specific hotels that act as a reference for properties that may be considering or in need of something similar.

Clancy: What advice would you give to someone aspiring to a career similar to yours?

Pinabell: Don’t be afraid of something new or different. Twenty years ago I would have never thought that not only my job would exist, but that the two-plus years I spent as an expatriate in Europe would influence my leadership of a global team today.

My other advice would be twofold. First, don’t ever forget your passion. That is what gets you up every day no matter what is going on. The work that you do makes a difference. 

Second, and no less important, is to know and embrace your impact to the business. Data is your friend and by understanding the financial and other data-driven components of your job, you will be more effective, more relevant and more integrated.